FIVE branch libraries around Southend look set to close under a huge shake-up of the service announced today.

Westcliff, Southchurch, Thorpedene, Friars and either Leigh or Kent Elms libraries could be offered to voluntary groups to run in a proposed shake-up of the borough’s library service.

A year-long review has also recommended the Central Library in Victoria Avenue close in favour of the new £12.5million Southend Forum Library, due to open on the site of the former Farringdon car park in September, as Southend Council looks to save £378,000 over the next three years.

David Webb, chairman of Westborough Community Association, which supports Westcliff Library, said: “That’s devastating news. I’m shocked.

“Staff will lose jobs and I don’t think that’s fair. Volunteers won’t have the same level of expertise or knowledge.”

A new library in Delaware Road, Shoebury, and either Leigh or Kent Elms libraries would be kept open with paid staff as “hub” libraries in the east and west of the borough, under the recommendations put forward by the all-party culture advisory working party.

The council would still provide the building, books, computer access and management support in the other five libraries, but staff would be volunteers.